Virtual Reality (VR) isn’t a fad any longer — it’s fast becoming a new major platform. The global VR market is expected to reach approximately $10-15 billion by 2022 (those numbers include both software and hardware sales).

Chart showing the growth of Digi-Capital VR/AR installed base
VR/AR installed base. Image by Digi-Capital.

So what can we expect in the new year for this exciting and rapidly growing segment? Let’s take a look.

1. More affordable VR devices

One of the most critical factors that prevent mass adoption for VR is the price tag — VR isn’t accessible to many people yet. Not only will a good headset cost about $500, but a high-powered computer is required to run the experience.

Cheaper headsets will increase adoption

Most VR hardware producers understand that a lower price point is a great way to get more consumers into the VR platform. That’s why major players Oculus, Sony, and HTC cut their prices for their VR products. The price for the Rift and PS VR was reduced to $399 per device, and HTC brought the Vive down to $499.

Mobile VR

Speaking of affordable experiences, mobile VR is one of the first things that comes to mind. It’s clear that mobile VR is going to be big — it’s the most affordable experience for people who want to explore VR but don’t want to spend a lot of money. This trend will make VR experiences such as Gear VR, Google Cardboard, or Daydream View low-risk entry points for many VR users. All products are available in the hundred-dollar range or even come free with the purchase of a phone. This trend also means developers will start to focus more on mobile VR and we can expect a lot of apps for this segment.

Google Virtual Reality
Google Daydream View

Daydream View is a low-end VR product and an entry-level experience for consumers.

Standalone VR as entry level VR experience

In 2019 more and more companies focused on building self-contained headsets. This has led to a new category of VR — Standalone VR. Standalone lies between mobile VR (optimized for affordability) and PC+VR (optimized for performance). Devices in this category will be designed to bring more freedom and accessibility to VR — self-contained, wearable headsets allow users to walk around without cables. All-in-one devices represent a huge leap forward in comfort, visual clarity, and ease-of-use.

One good example of such a product is Oculus Go. The headset will be similar to Samsung Gear, but won’t require a separate smartphone. The company is positioning this device as an excellent medium for watching movies or concerts, playing games, or just hanging out with your friends in VR. You can buy the Oculus Go for $199 USD.

Woman playing with the Oculus Go Virtual Reality all-in-one headset
Oculus Go is an all-in-one headset.

2. Focus on usability: easy to set up, easy to use

Beyond simple price drops, in 2019 we see that VR headsets become easier to set up and easy to use. Usability of high-end VR devices such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or PS VR still requires improvements, so making products more accessible for users is a step in the right direction. The goal is to limit the number of actions required to set up/configure the products and make them usable out of the box.

A quick star guide for Playstation Virtual Reality
PS VR set-up.

An image from the Quick Start Guide for PS VR. A number of steps are required to properly configure the experience.

Wireless, self-contained headsets have an opportunity to improve the usability of VR devices. Such devices might be the easiest way to jump into VR — a user won’t need to pair their device with a phone or plug it into a computer. Instead, they just put it on their head and turn it on.

3. New technologies that improve VR performance

As mentioned, one of the most significant problems facing the current generation of VR devices is the need for high-powered computers. However, the barrier of entry for running high-end VR experiences will be dramatically lower soon because of Foveated Rendering, which is enabled by eye-tracking technology. The use of this technology can help increase the performance from your existing hardware — Foveated Rendering saves your GPU work by only rendering what the VR user is currently looking at in high resolution. At the same time, it leaves the periphery blurry (meaning the periphery area will have the least amount of polygons).

The beauty of this technology is that you don’t have to wait until the next generation of VR headsets to utilize it. Modern VR headsets, like the HTC Vive, already have a kit that allows eye tracking.

Foveated Rendering will drastically lower the barrier to entry for running high-end VR experiences, enabling support for existing hardware. This is especially great for mobile hardware, since this technology will allow us to get a lot more out of mobile VR platforms.

Virtual reality view of the main-focus point in full resolution while the rest of the area is degrading
Virtual reality view of the main-focus point in full resolution while the rest of the area is degrading.

Rendering the area of the white circle (where a user is currently looking at) in full resolution, while the area outside of the circle is degrading without the user noticing.

4. New ways of delivering content and experiences

VR’s widespread availability will create new opportunities for content creators to deliver their content.

360-degree videos

360-degree videos are fast becoming a popular way of sharing immersive stories on social media. Even today, Facebook allows the publishing of 360-degree photos and videos on feeds. A few of the other big players in the media industry are already using 360-degree videos as a way to deliver content for their readers, too.

Currently, most users watch 360 videos inside web browsers on desktop computers or smartphones, with viewers dragging the screen to move around. The next step is watching 360-degree videos using VR headsets, which will allow more natural experiences since users don’t need to manually change the viewpoint. When VR headsets do hit the mainstream, 360-degree videos will be everywhere.

Girl in the desert
Photo from New York Times Daily 360. Image by The New York Times.

Immersive journalism — The New York Times has started publishing The Daily 360.

Movies

Among many different content categories, movies seem to be the one that is the most relevant for VR technology. Currently, watching movies in 3D IMAX is the closest we can get to a truly all-encompassing experience. But the natural desire to watch movies at home and have the theater-like experience will make VR the next medium for home theaters.

Boy getting scared and dropping popcorn while watching a movie using virtual reality
Boy using VR to watch movie.

VR has an opportunity to become the future of home cinema.

There’s huge potential for the film industry to utilize VR capabilities to provide viewers with a truly immersive experience. We already have a few great examples of VR films. One of them is Unrest. The film gives viewers a preview of what the future of cinema will look (and feel) like.

A screenshot of the Unrest film homepage
Unrest allows viewers to experience the story of a person who suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

While shooting in VR is full of technical challenges, there’s still a huge possibility that in a few years we’ll see a full-length VR blockbuster movie that will allow us to see action from different angles and experience the events playing out on the screen.

Shopping

The future of eCommerce definitely revolves around VR. It’s clear that VR brings a lot of advantages for shoppers. Among the most obvious advantages is the opportunity to experience things (e.g. try on clothing before buying) without leaving your home.

We already have an example of what VR shopping looks like. The Chinese eCommerce giant Alibaba introduced VR shopping to customers in China. This online shopping service, called Buy+, allows users to browse and buy from all over the world. The company says the service attracted 30,000 people in just a couple of days after the initial launch and, a week later, that number quickly surpassed eight million users.

A point of view of an Alibaba shopping experience through virtual reality
Alibaba VR shopping experience.

Education

Education will become a major VR growth driver. Immersive experiences delivered by the platform have an opportunity to keep students interested in a subject they’re studying. Among many education platforms available on the market today, Google Expeditions is getting a lot of attention recently with its growing library of field trips. Google Expeditions allows students to get in the centre of 360-degree photos and 3D scenes with historical importance. To use the app, you only need Google Cardboard or a Daydream headset and an Android phone.

A virtual reality street view from Google Expeditions
View while using Google Expedition. Image by Techcrunch.

Google Expeditions allows people to explore nearly 600 available tours on their own.

It’s clear that VR technology will be used to educate and train individuals in medicine, military, law enforcement, and research fields. One good example is Mendel Grammar School, which is teaching students about the anatomy of the eye in biology classes with the Oculus Rift.

Student using virtual reality at school
VR being used in classroom. Image by Roadtovr.

Social activities

VR will have a significant impact on how we interact with other people. The magic of VR is a feeling of presence — VR technology allows us to be with anyone, even when they are miles away from us. That’s why Facebook is putting a lot of effort into building VR social experiences. The company believes that VR has an opportunity to become a platform that puts people first.

During Oculus Connect 3, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed off Facebook’s latest social VR prototype. The social VR makes you feel like you’re hanging out in the same physical space as your friends. Your friends are represented as avatars with realistic body language and emotional responses. These realistic avatars help people connect with each other in a way that’s closer to interacting with friends in person.

A screenshot of Facebook’s latest social virtual reality prototype
A screenshot of Facebook’s latest social virtual reality prototype.

5. New tracking technologies: VR from the inside out

In upcoming years, we’ll see significant progress in tracking technologies. Today’s most popular high-end headsets (such as Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) are built on what’s known as outside-in tracking technology — sensors on the outside of the device track the headset and allow the system to align a person’s head and hands in the virtual space. This technology has significant natural limitations, and it’s only possible to provide an accurate VR experience in a strictly defined space controlled by sensors. When a user steps outside that space, the VR is no longer functioning.

Inside-out VR technology will likely be the next level of VR platforms. A new generation of headsets will have sensors in the headset itself that will allow it to scan the environment around it, placing the user in a virtual environment. With inside-out, the space in which users can do VR is infinite. VR with inside-out capabilities has the chance to become an ultimate entertainment and content-consuming medium.

An illustration showing the different angles of virtual reality.
Diagram of inside-out VR. Image by Ishii, K. (2010).

9. More innovative VR tools

In the coming year, we’ll see a wide range of tools that enable people to create and publish VR content without much effort. We already have a few great tools like Medium, Tilt Brush, and MindShow available on the market. We’ll see a lot more tools that let creatives create and publish content for VR without leaving the spatial realm.

A screenshot of a VR video on YouTube
Screenshot of video showcasing VR.

7. WebVR: create cross-platform and low-friction experiences

One of the barriers to broader VR adoption is the lack of content. Content is critical to the success of any new ecosystem, and VR is no exception. Many companies, including Google, believe that WebVR might be the solution to their content problem. WebVR decreases the barrier to entry and extends the reach of content:

  • WebVR enables web developers to build cross-platform, cross-device VR experiences. Developers can create WebVR apps the same way as they build web services, with JavaScript, and it all works in a browser.
  • Sharing VR products is as easy as sharing stuff on the web. When users surf the web and come across a WebVR experience, they just tap the link, and they’re instantly in VR. No installation is required, and a lot of devices are supported right from the start.

Developers are already building and sharing WebVR apps. The site WebVR Experiments showcases a lot of great work.

 A screenshot of WebVR Experiments homepage
Screenshot of WebVR Experiments website. Image by WebVR Experiments.

8. Location-based entertainment

Location-based entertainment has an opportunity to become a widespread VR experience in the coming years. This type of experience combines VR headsets with real, physical locations, essentially creating a mixed reality experience where users walk through a real, physical stage with the virtual world mapped on top of it. The business model for such an experience is straightforward — a visitor only purchases an entrance ticket, and there’s no need to convince people to buy a headset. Experiences can be fairly short, compared to a home VR movie or game.

Man using virtual reality using real, physical locations
Using VR in video game. Image by The Void.

9. Total sensory immersion

VR experiences are currently limited to a user’s visual and auditory senses, but in the future, this will likely be enhanced. Currently, many VR teams are working to incorporate more senses to achieve a truly immersive experience. The goal is to create total sensory immersion — a VR experience that takes advantage of the five senses of the human body.

There are already a few companies in the market that provide a full sense of interactive experiences in 360 environments. One of them is Sensiks, which creates sensory reality pods. It provides audio-visual experiences synchronized with scents, temperature, airflow, vibrations, tastes, and light frequencies.

Elderly person using virtual reality
A full sensory interactive experience cabin.

10. Demand on VR designers

Progress in the VR space will significantly increase the demand for qualified VR specialists (both designers and developers specializing in creating VR environments). Furthermore, the rise in demand for VR experiences will lead to new VR-related roles created in industries like advertising, marketing, and hardware development.

Conclusion

We’re at the start of the next computing revolution. VR is quickly cementing itself as a necessary technology across industries, and it won’t be long before it becomes a ubiquitous global presence in the same way that smartphones have. Soon, VR headsets will appear in homes, classrooms, and offices, and it’s already clear that immersive computing will change how we live, learn, and work.

Of course, VR designers are still figuring out what works and what doesn’t, so things will change, but innovations will drive the VR industry forward. Today’s companies need to be ready to embrace VR trends and take advantage of these innovations to satisfy the needs of tomorrow’s customers.